Monday, April 30, 2012

How Soon is Now?

I'm in a weird place right now, in game development. I'm in a sort of between-world that exists before a game is gold, but after it's been released to the public. I'm reluctant to put a lot of effort into another round of publicity just yet, as I feel the addition of upcoming features will make a better first impression.

On the other hand, I've already done some PR, and attracted players to a much older, buggier, incomplete version of what there is now. And by all accounts, most people loved it. That may sound like a good thing, and in some ways it is. However, I think a lot of people are enchanted by the "potential" NEO Scavenger promises: NEO Scavenger is a suggestion of a game many people have been waiting for. If I'm not careful, putting a lid on NEO Scavenger may disappoint many folks.

I suppose this is an issue many developers deal with, especially those who offer games for pre-order. How did they decide which features were required vs. optional? How did they decide when to wrap-up version 1.0, sell it, and begin work on 2.0? I have a gut feeling as to what I'd expect to be in 1.0, so I guess that's a start. It's more than what's there now, but probably less than I've outlined in my feature voting page (unless there was a financial windfall).

Why am I thinking about this? I guess it's largely influenced by the ever-shrinking tail of sales. The initial spike has paid for a couple of months of living costs, which is good. However, that money hardly dents the year's worth of living costs I've spent so far, and none of that addresses future development costs. I'm not quite in emergency finance mode yet, but with sales at 1-3 copies per day, it won't be enough to sustain development for long.

In retrospect, this isn't the first time I've been here. This sounds a lot like where I was just before NEO Scavenger's "soft" launch. I was burning up savings each day, and was starting to get antsy about whether I'd be able to recoup my costs. NEO Scavenger itself was a fun little game, in need of a plot resolution and several bug fixes. I didn't technically decide to launch then, as much as prepare for being mentioned in a few articles. And it was that accidental publicity which led to greater awareness, and a funding "shot in the arm" for new features.

Fast-forward two months, and the game has made significant leaps in stability and usability, and even has a few new tricks to show off. The plot is still as unfinished as before, but that appears to be the next thing on my agenda. Is this it? Do I put together a satisfying plot resolution and start preparing for final launch? Or do I wait and see where finances are once the plot is in, and consider a few features after that?

I feel like there's a good game here, so it's possible that a final launch could sell pretty well, with the right exposure. If I could get onto services like Steam, Desura, or Good Old Games, it could really take off. Possibly enough to recoup my costs and start funding the next game. But how much more NEO Scavenger do I need to cross that threshold?

I don't have a good answer, this is more a "thinking out loud" style post: a journal entry. My gut tells me that NEO Scavenger could show best if at least the plot were resolved somehow, and I addressed the randomness of combat. Resolution increase and downloadable versions would be good bonuses, as would a sprinkling of content variety (more items and creatures).

Fortunately, it appears my players agree. Looking at the feature voting page, plot and higher resolution are the two most popular features, respectively. And even though combat is fifth, it is the single most often talked about issue that players have. There's at least one good explanation for this discrepancy, so I've been thinking about what that might mean. It's possible I may need to make an executive decision to resuscitate the neglected feature.

I'll need some time to let that sink in. The plot work will take a while, so at least I'll have some time to consider it. (Read: hide from reality.)


  1. Congratulations! Through your hard work and determination you’ve managed to get to this spot as an indie. Many wish they had to deal with the types of troubles you are facing right now.  That aside, isn’t the old quote: “You are not done with the game until you have cut all the features you can, and still keep the game true to your vision.” … or something like that? Although no player is going to want you to stop working on the v1 of the game, I think you are in the right with your line of thinking presented in this blog post. The line has to come somewhere, but there will ALWAYS be on more compelling feature you NEED to get done. I wish you continued success! And thanks for sharing your experiences in both this blog and your company blog.

  2. That's a good point. Sometimes one has to take away rather than add. I would make a bad sculptor :)

    And thanks for the encouragement! I often spend so much time worrying about what's ahead that I forget where I've been. Glad to hear that you think my line of thinking is reasonable!